By Sally Absher
Last Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting was, for the most part, a somber and subdued affair, but things got lively quickly immediately following Public Forum.
Former board Chair Lynne Fugate took the floor to address some of the things said in public forum. It quickly becomes obvious she can’t stand applause during a meeting, which seems to be in direct conflict with board policy BK (Civility Code), which includes the statement, “It is not the intent of the Board to deprive any person of his or her right to freedom of expression.”
Here is the entire transcript of her speech (http://youtu.be/TYgjZmAzUeY):
“To the Special Education parents, we hear you. I talked to Dr. McIntyre – I would like for the board to have a mid-month workshop on exactly what are the Special Ed laws, exactly what’s going on…” A round of applause broke out from the audience.
She responded, “Please don’t do that. Please don’t DO that!” Someone in the audience replied “We have to.” Fugate said “No Please DON’T!” The voice in the audience said “It’s the first time we’ve been heard.” Fugate said “No, it is NOT the first time you’ve been heard. Please let me respond!”
She continued, “This board has been attacked for over a year as if they don’t give a darn and they don’t care. We have been insulted from the floor meeting after meeting after meeting. And when I was chair of the board I took it. I’m not going to take it anymore. If you want respect, give some. Don’t patronize and talk down to us like we are idiots when you are trying to make your point.”
“Please don’t speak to me the way you would not want your students to speak to you. We have gone through hell in this community, last year, and yesterday was unspeakable. And to come in here today, and be insulted, and spoken to as though we are hard hearted people, that don’t care, just isn’t fair and it’s not helpful.
“We are your representatives. We are trying to do the right thing for this community. We have laws that we have to adhere to. We are responsible for educating every child, and contrary to what you think, we are trying. Is it perfect? No. But we are trying. And I…when I hear teachers talk about testing, I get that.
“But there’s a flip side to that. The old way didn’t work for my child. The teacher might have known he wasn’t able to read, but nobody else did. She kept that to herself, there were no assessments, no one in the school knew it, and until he got to second grade, I didn’t know it.
“So there are two sides to every issue. Let’s just try to work it out, and quit this… adversarial relationship. We are all here because we are trying to do the right thing for students and families of this community. I didn’t run for any other reason. You can disagree with me but please don’t insult me and assume I am a bitch. Thank you.”
What brought on this highly emotionally charged tirade? You know things are upside down when a crowd tries to express gratitude, and is met with this kind of vitriol – from the very person they are thanking.
It started when the first three speakers voiced concerns about Special Education in Knox County. Stephanie Anderson, Kim Kredich, and a group of parents of children enrolled at Amherst Preschool each begged the Board to help them with concerns that are long-standing.
Both Anderson and Kredich have spoken to the board before. They are moms of children with autism, and they have spent untold hours in IEP (individualized education program) meetings and fought continual battles for full inclusion for their children. Excellence for every child, you know.
Anderson voiced concern about “Knox County’s Special Education Department not being able to follow the IDEA laws, the ADA laws, and not come to a satisfactory agreement with my son’s IEP for an appropriate, beneficial, meaningful education, which he has a right to.”
She said, “I have filed administrative complaints – two now, one is under investigation. I have filed an ADA civil rights discrimination complaint against Knox County Schools… I want my child to have the same access to core, grade level curriculum that any other child in this community has. It’s called equal access. Please, someone, help.”
Kredich informed the board, “Knox County is the only school district in the state that does not meet ANY of the state targets for the five Office of Special Education Programs Annual Performance Report education environments in terms of placement, setting, least restrictive environment, and inclusion measures (Indicators 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, and 6b). We did it – we are the big goose egg – we are the WORST at inclusion!”
April Roga spoke for several families with non-verbal children attending a special education class at Amherst Preschool. They have issues with a teacher who was under investigation both by the KCS and Department of Children’s Services because of allegations of inappropriate contact with a student at Amherst Elementary. That teacher has been returned to the classroom.
She asked, “Why are teachers under this kind of scrutiny allowed to return to teach children whose special needs include limited communication?”
She said, “Our principal and vice principal are a great team and extremely supportive of our efforts to get our kids back to a safe environment. We want them to get the support they need from their superiors in this situation. We ask for your guidance in reaching an expedited resolution.”
These are the audience members who clapped when Fugate said, “We hear you.” These are the parents who were admonished and told “Don’t’ DO that!” when they clapped in support, and felt that finally, their concerns had been heard.
Kredich, who has made numerous appeals to the Board since 2008, said this is the first time any measure to address concerns over Special Education has been taken. “We were absolutely thrilled when Ms. Fugate announced there would be a work session to talk about IDEA Law. Finally, our long-standing issues were going to be acknowledged. We burst into sincere, appreciative applause. After all these years with not a single measure of action or even acknowledgement by the School Board, Special Education was finally on the agenda!”
If the parents’ accounts of their complaints are accurate, the KCS board has violated their own policies BCBI (Appeals and Appearances Before the Board), IDDF (Special Education) and CH (Complaints under the Americans with Disabilities Act) by not appropriately addressing the complaints previously.
But Fugate wasn’t just angry that her speech was being interrupted by unruly parents in the audience. She made it quite clear that she is tired of hearing from teachers, from being “insulted” and “talked down to” by teachers. (But it’s OK if she, Karen Carson, Gloria Deathridge and Doug Harris regularly insult and talk down to teachers or parents).
Third grade teacher Lauren Hopson also spoke in public forum. One of the items on the Agenda for Wednesday’s meeting was Carson’s letter to the Chairman, in which she writes, “I object to the action taken at the special called meeting of the Board of Education on November 3, 2014.” Specifically, the action to eliminate the SAT-10 assessment for grades K-2.
Hopson offered more information about the standardized testing of K-2 students, something she said she felt the need to do “because even though the SAT-10 was voted down last month, it is clear that some of you still do not get the full picture.”
She addressed the “perception that some board members have that without SAT-10, our K-2 students are not being assessed at all. This idea is frankly ridiculous. We do comprehension assessments on a weekly basis, are free to give the STAR assessment as much as we deem necessary, and we listen to our students read EVERY DAY.”
Referring to comments Doug Harris made a few weeks ago on WBIR’s Inside Tennessee, she said, “To state that without the SAT-10 we will have no idea how our students are doing until the beginning of fourth grade is not misspeaking, but an irresponsible statement which belittles the abilities and expertise of our finest and most experienced teachers.”
She cautioned the board against replacing the SAT-10 with another norm-referenced test, saying, “a norm-referenced test doesn’t really tell us if a child is proficient in their skills or not. It merely compares them to other students across the nation.”
She explained, “Theoretically, all the children could be doing a bang up job, but if your child scores in the 25th percentile, you may be unnecessarily concerned. Conversely, all children could be struggling across the country, but if a child scores in the 95th percentile, you may have a false sense of security about their abilities.”
Regarding the use of student test scores for teacher evaluations, she recalled a comment made by renowned public education advocate Diane Ravitch, recounting an incident after NCLB was passed in which she asked then Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander if he really thought that all children would be able to read on grade level by 2014. Alexander replied “No Diane, but it’s good to have goals.” Ravitch concluded, “Firing teachers for not meeting a goal that no one believes is attainable is criminal.”
WVLT anchor Ted Hall said Lynn Fugate was asked about her comments after Public Forum, and he told viewers, “Fugate did admit that after yesterday’s bus accident, her emotions were running a little high tonight, but that she meant what she said.”
One would hope that at the very least, elected board members would adhere to the same expectations they have for students, faculty, staff, parents, guardians and all other members of the community, as stated in BOE Policy BK (4): “Refrain from behavior that … employs loud or offensive language, … or profanity; or inappropriately shows a display of temper.”